Bankruptcy Lawyers: Your Mother Was Right!

by Chip Parker, Esq.

April 15, 2012

Mothers are well known for dispensing good, common sense to their children, and the one piece of motherly advice that can be applied to your selection of a bankruptcy lawyer is, “You get what you pay for.”

Do you know what a lawyer has to do to be a “bankruptcy lawyer?”  Nothing!  Ten years ago, every general practice lawyer added bankruptcy to the list of things he or she did to make money.

Then, in 2005, the bankruptcy laws changed when the United States Congress passed broad modifications to the bankruptcy law in an ill-advised attempt to reign in “abuses” by broke Americans trying to get a fresh start.  These new laws created a labyrinth that the middle class has been forced to navigate ever since.  From the standpoint of lawyering, filing a bankruptcy before 2005 was ten times easier than it is today.

Don’t get me wrong.  The bankruptcy discharge is just as powerful as it has ever been, but it takes a much greater knowledge of bankruptcy laws to achieve the best result.  So, in (only) one way, the 2005 changes in the bankruptcy laws were good because they “weeded out” the half-assed lawyer just looking for an easy fee.

Then, in 2008, the world collapsed when Wall Street’s risky bets with subprime (remember that word?) mortgages destroyed the housing sector and the broader economy.  All of a sudden, every other area of the law seemed to take a back seat to bankruptcy and foreclosures.  And lots of lawyers found themselves with nothing to do.

These lawyers with nothing to do began gravitating toward bankruptcy law, which as it turns out, is a very scary proposition because they really don’t know what they’re doing.  They are trying to play “catch up” on an area of the law that is so convoluted and, in many cases, counter-intuitive.  Common sense often does not apply to the Bankruptcy Code.

Although not always true, the lawyers with the best reputation in bankruptcy court typically cost more than average.  Good bankruptcy lawyers are at the top of their game, and they’re in high demand.  If you want the best, expect to pay a little more.  That’s where you mother’s advice comes into play, but what your mom may not realize is that because consumer bankruptcy law is such a competitive market, most of the best bankruptcy lawyers offer the greatest value.  The best often charge only a modest premium that is more than offset by the quality of their representation.

So, what’s a smart consumer to do when locating an experienced bankruptcy lawyer?  Spend some time researching lawyer credentials.  Don’t just trust Google to give you the best bankruptcy lawyer.  Google’s just gives you the best “search engine optimized” lawyer – whether she’s great or lousy.

If you know someone who had a good experience with his or her bankruptcy lawyer, put that lawyer at the top of your list, but don’t stop there.  Add the names of lawyers you find through internet search engines, assuming their web site seems to indicate the lawyer is bankruptcy-savvy, and make sure you check the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys for members in your area.

Once you have your list of lawyers, use search engines to check them out.  Make sure you check under “news” and “blogs.”  If a lawyer is viewed by the local media as an expert, that a good sign, and if the lawyer authors articles on bankruptcy topics, that’s a great sign as long as the lawyer’s writings are accurate.  Finally, you should check your state’s Bar website to find out how long the lawyer has been in practice and whether he has been disciplined.

Bankruptcy is an opportunity, and you need to maximize it.  Make sure you’re getting the biggest bang for your buck when you pick your bankruptcy lawyer.

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Chip Parker is the managing partner of Parker & DuFresne, P.A., where he represents Northeast Florida businesses and consumers facing bankruptcy, and homeowners facing foreclosure. His firm files more homeowners in the Mortgage Modification Mediation Program than any other law firm in Northeast Florida. Parker is the recipient of Jacksonville Area Legal Aid's prestigious Award for Outstanding Pro Bono Service. Mr. Parker is an active member of the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys and National Association of Consumer Advocates.

Last modified: April 21, 2013